'Get your popcorn ready': Soto deal ignites Hot Stove

December 7th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After two relatively ho-hum days at the Winter Meetings, the Yankees and Padres closed out the event with a bang, agreeing to a seven-player trade that will send superstar slugger to New York.

The Yankees have landed the big bat they were looking for, while the Padres have added some much-needed young arms to their rotation. A deal that made so much sense for both sides was hammered out, with one of the game’s biggest stars changing uniforms for the second time in roughly 16 months.

What does the Soto deal mean for the rest of the market? Here’s a look at some of the ripple effects from Wednesday night’s blockbuster:

What’s next for the Yankees?

Now that they have acquired their big bat in Soto, the Yankees are expected to turn their attention toward Yoshinobu Yamamoto. According to a source, the Yankees will meet with Yamamoto on Monday, making their pitch to the Japanese superstar.

Having acquired along with Soto in the trade with the Padres, the Yankees are likely to start Soto in left field, Aaron Judge in center field and Alex Verdugo -- who was acquired from the Red Sox in a Tuesday trade -- in right field. Grisham becomes the team’s fourth outfielder, giving them a late-inning defensive replacement option.

The Yankees are competing with a crowded field for Yamamoto, the 25-year-old right-hander who has won three consecutive Pacific League Most Valuable Player awards. Mets owner Steve Cohen met with Yamamoto in Japan last week, while the Giants, Dodgers and Blue Jays have been among the teams believed to be pursuing Yamamoto.

“This is going to come down to the Mets and Yankees,” one source said. “They both think they need him badly -- and they do. Get your popcorn ready. This could be fun.”

What’s next for the Padres?

San Diego came into the offseason needing to replace 460 innings in the rotation from Blake Snell, Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha, all of whom are free agents.

The addition of Michael King -- who posted a 2.23 ERA in nine starts after moving into a starting role in August -- gives the Padres a potential No. 3-4 starter to slot behind Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, while Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez and Drew Thorpe -- who was the Yankees’ No. 5 prospect and No. 99 in the game according to MLB Pipeline -- provide back of the rotation depth for 2024.

The Padres will likely continue to pursue at least one more starter this offseason, though it’s unlikely to be one at the top of the market. They will also need to address a hole at the back of their bullpen, as free agent closer Josh Hader is expected to sign elsewhere in the coming weeks.

San Diego must also replace two-thirds of its outfield now that Soto and Grisham will be wearing pinstripes. Korean star Jung Hoo Lee is said to be high on the Padres’ wish list, with one source saying a deal could come together quickly now that Soto’s salary is off the books.

Sources said that another trade could be in the works to address either the outfield or the pitching staff, as San Diego has received multiple hits on Jake Cronenworth from other clubs.

On to Plan C?

For some of the teams pursuing Shohei Ohtani, Soto was viewed as a potential Plan B if they didn’t land the two-time American League MVP. Now that Soto is headed to New York, that fallback plan is no longer an option.

That could benefit Cody Bellinger, who now stands out as the top overall hitter available on either the free-agent or trade market -- at least that we know of. With the Blue Jays, Dodgers, Cubs and Angels all still among the teams in play for Ohtani, the runners-up will have to look elsewhere for an impact bat.

A Bellinger-Cubs reunion would make perfect sense, though the Dodgers seem like an unlikely landing spot for the center fielder/first baseman, who played the first six seasons of his career with Los Angeles before being non-tendered by the Dodgers last winter.

One of the bigger winners could be Jorge Soler, who hit 36 home runs for the Marlins in 2023 and is among the best pure power bats available after Ohtani with Soto no longer available.

Might the Yankees try to extend Soto?

After giving up five players for Soto, it would only be natural to assume that the Yankees plan to lock the slugger up on a long-term deal. That might be the ultimate plan, but it’s unlikely to happen soon.

The trade presents the Yankees with an opportunity to get a close look at Soto for the next year, giving them a feel for how he fits into the clubhouse, how he handles New York and anything else they may wonder about a player who is likely to command a deal worth at least $400 million.

Soto -- who just turned 25 in October -- has a career .284/.421/.584 slash line with 160 home runs and 483 RBIs in 779 games with the Nationals and Padres. He should rake at Yankee Stadium with its friendly dimensions for left-handed hitters -- something the Yankees have been sorely lacking in recent years. In seven career games in the Bronx, Soto has four home runs and a 1.219 OPS.

It seems unlikely that Soto and his agent, Scott Boras, would agree to an extension with only one year remaining prior to free agency, but if he thrives in New York, the one-year trial run in 2024 could set Soto and the Yankees up for a mega-deal that would keep him pinstripes well into his 30s.

Will the market finally start to move?

A primary theme of this week’s Winter Meetings have been the slow pace of action -- if you could even call it that -- that has been taking place in Nashville.

The common theory is that Ohtani and Yamamoto were the first two dominos that needed to fall in order for the free-agent market -- and the trade market, for that matter -- to thaw.

“Until those two sign, it’s going to continue to be slow,” one source said. “Teams need to know if they’re going to be tying up big money in either Ohtani or Yamamoto, and agents for other players are waiting to see which teams could get desperate if they miss out on those guys.”

The Soto trade takes one major factor out of play, and although there were some other notable moves on Wednesday -- Eduardo Rodriguez agreeing to a four-year, $80 million deal with the D-backs and Craig Kimbrel inking a one-year, $13 million contract with the Orioles -- the rest of the market seems to be waiting for Ohtani and Yamamoto to sign, moves that will have a massive trickle-down effect on literally dozens of players.